Gemma Derrick revisits calls for a better research culture.
Last year, in the initial throes of the pandemic, I found myself trapped in Spain at the start of a lockdown, witnessing immense change in research culture. I was delighted by the many acts of kindness and altruism that those who work in science were capable of: from funders extending deadlines, no questions asked, to institutions streamlining bureaucracy and publishers making coronavirus research free to all. I wrote about the experience for Nature.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed some elements of scientific research for the better. Such as cooperation between researchers, the public standing of research and the constructive use of preprint servers. It also saw faster and kinder peer review and other processes. But a year on, have these changes been sustained. This Nature piece explores this question and suggests the opportunity for long-term positive change is still in our hands. While we like elements of this piece, it is a little naive – some of the ‘pressures’ it identifies are not real- they are self-imposed.
I also received correspondence from some who did not think that a message of research kindness was sustainable. For them, the pandemic would only exacerbate moments of unkindness: the research enterprise was too inhospitable in its very nature to allow any change. I did not respond to these e-mails, choosing instead to focus on the positivity of this opportunity to recreate research culture.
There are many challenges to embracing the type of research culture we want. And that’s aside from everything else that we have had to balance this year — adjusting long-term to a new normal, recovering from periods of home-schooling and battling with almost impossible mid-pandemic workloads while taking care of our own and others’ health. But we can all take steps to make things better.